The point of foldable smartphones (and soon, rollable ones) is, beyond the proof of concept and technological advancements, to modify the actual shape of the device. What does that mean? By folding (rolling, etc.) a smartphone, you’re actually changing the size of the canvas, which, in this case, is the display.
You can make said display larger – and we discussed last week about the two major concepts to achieve that – or you can choose to make said display smaller. If you continue the logic, the two approaches above result in either a. a larger, tablet-like phone or b. a smaller phone.
An example for the first category would be the Galaxy Z Fold 2 or the Mate Xs (upcoming Mate X2). An example for the second category is the Galaxy Z Flip or the razr 5G.
While they both fold, they do so with a completely different outcome in mind. The ones in the first category unfold into a tablet-like large canvas and collapse to a regular size phone. The ones in the second category fold into a smaller-than-regular device, expanding into a regular size. In other words, we have regular-to-big and small-to-regular.
With all of that in mind, let’s look at the recent rumors of the foldable iPhone. According to chatter, Apple might have already decided to take the clamshell route for its first foldable smartphone, or at least so some claim.
In defense of the clamshell foldable iPhone
“Sure, why not? It makes sense for Apple to launch a clamshell foldable iPhone. Samsung did it, successfully”, some might say. And to that, I say “you are right”. But what we are forgetting is that Samsung also has a classic, non-clamshell foldable smartphone, the Galaxy Z Fold 2.
This brings us to the idea of protecting the iPad, as a line-up. Having a phone transform into a tablet will surely cannibalize the tablet offering, right? Well, if you come to think of it, the iPad mini is the only relatively small iPad, at 7.9 inches. All the other ones are a 10-inch plus, which is a different category altogether.
Even if we force the argument that an inflating iPhone would somewhat affect the iPad, it would only affect the iPad mini, and even if so, it wouldn’t be a bad decision to discontinue it but still at the same time offering a foldable iPhone that’s close to that display size.
Going back to the Samsung analogy above, and the Z Fold 2, this actually was the first foldable Samsung product generation on the market. Only after they have managed to establish this offering did Samsung lean towards the clamshell approach. Why? Because these days we want our screens to be big. We are consuming so much media, and with 5G upon us, that’s not going away.
Apple tackling the foldable game with a clamshell will still offer future customers two screen sizes: a small one (compared to the outfolding/expanding foldables), and an even smaller one (hopefully, on the outside of the now folded clamshell).
This could, of course, solve a problem for those who want a phone to occupy the least amount of space, but only partially. A phone folded in two will be close to doubling its thickness, so whatever you gain from reducing height, you lose by increasing thickness, while width remains the same.
There’s also the inconvenience of flipping it open every time you want to talk on the phone or do anything significant. As powerful as iOS could become to support the outer display, you simply are not as productive on a 1, 2, or even 3-inch outer screen as you are on a 6-inch plus display. There’s no way around it.
…and then there are the bragging rights, but we should mention this as both in favor and against the clamshell foldable iPhone.
Whether Apple will go classic or clamshell foldable for its iPhone is at the moment unknown, and we’re only speculating here. At this point, it’s not even sure Apple knows the direction it wants to go in. Regardless of which one it will end up materializing, a foldable iPhone will definitely be a bragging right for those who find pride in showing off their latest iPhone.
Yes, there are plenty of those who specifically purchase the latest exclusive color option, in order to be spotted from afar that it’s the latest model, Heaven forbid should they rock last year’s offering. But, to each his own.
Another thing is clear, and history teaches us about Apple: they’re usually late to the game, but when they do adopt a technology or trend, they seem to do it arguably better.
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Leader image credit: LetsGoDigital